TIFF21: “SUNDOWN” REVIEW
Review by David Baldwin
Neil Bennett (Tim Roth) is vacationing with his family at a luxury resort in Acapulco. The wealthy travelers are thrown for a loop when they find out Neil’s Mother has passed away suddenly and need to return to London immediately. When they get to the airport however, Neil discovers that he has forgotten his passport at the hotel. He tells them to go on while he stays to look for it, but instead of heading back to the resort, he decides to check into a different hotel and does not seem intent on ever returning home.
Revealing anything more would be a disservice to Michel Franco’s SUNDOWN, which manages to remain moody and mysterious throughout its brisk 84-minute running time. I was hesitant to watch after being genuinely repulsed by Franco’s nihilistic film New Order at last year’s Festival, and was surprised by just how blown away I was at this Film’s simplicity and depth. We know something is holding Neil back from returning to his former life, yet Franco only gradually reveals the truth. Instead, he lets Roth drink beers on the gorgeous beach and spend time with a beautiful local woman named Berenice (Iazua Larios). All the while, Franco hints at class struggle and the benefits Neil’s family have over the less privileged Mexican people who surround him, and takes a few shocking turns to ensure that message is crystal clear for the audience.
Despite the breezy pacing, I found myself riveted by the journey Roth’s character Neil goes through. He speaks few words and rarely shows any emotion; rather he relies entirely on body language and the character’s melancholic demeanour to carry the Film. That may sound less than ideal on paper, but Roth’s performance is a masterclass in minimalism. He says and conveys everything he needs to in a way that few Actors can. He holds your gaze no matter the circumstance, breathing life into a character who some may despise and others might admire. He is not an inherently bad person per se – Franco just never makes it easy to sympathize with him or his repugnant actions. Roth uses that to his advantage and makes every frame of his performance more compelling than the last. Supporting work from Larios, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Henry Goodman are all solid, though they are difficult to notice whenever Roth is acting beside them. His towering work here makes SUNDOWN practically unmissable.
SUNDOWN screens at TIFF’ 21:
Sun, Sep 12 Scotiabank 2 7:30 PM
Mon, Sep 13 digital TIFF Bell Lightbox 3:00 PM
Fri, Sep 17 digital TIFF Bell Lightbox 5:00 PM